Tags: web_standards

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Thursday, August 22nd, 2019

Jeremy Keith - Building The Web - View Source 2019 - YouTube

I had a chat with Vitaly for half an hour about all things webby. It was fun!

Tuesday, September 26th, 2017

Occasionally, people e-mail me to say something along the lines of “I’ve come up with something to replace HTML!”.

Five years ago, Hixie outlined the five metrics that a competitor to the web would have to score well in:

  1. Be completely devoid of any licensing requirements.
  2. Be vendor-neutral.
  3. Be device-neutral and media-neutral.
  4. Be content-neutral.
  5. Be radically better than the existing Web.

You come at the king, you best not miss.

Wednesday, July 26th, 2017

Bruce Lawson’s personal site  : Eulogy for Flash

Web developers aren’t going to shed many tears for Flash, but as Bruce rightly points out, it led the way for many standards that followed. Flash was the kick up the arse that the web needed.

He also brings up this very important question:

I’m also nervous; one of the central tenets of HTML is to be backwards-compatible and not to break the web. It would be a huge loss if millions of Flash movies become unplayable. How can we preserve this part of our digital heritage?

This is true of the extinction of any format. Perhaps this is an opportunity for us to tackle this problem head on.

Friday, March 27th, 2015

isolani - Web Standards: Flash’s slide into irrelevance

Mike runs through the history of Flash. Those who forget the history of the web are doomed to repeat it:

The struggle now seems to be turning to native apps versus non-native apps on the mobile platform. It is similar to Flash’s original battle ground: the argument that the Web technology stack is not suitable for building applications with a polished user-experience.

Saturday, November 22nd, 2014

On HTML5 and the Group That Rules the Web

Paul Ford’s potted history of web standards, delivered in his own inimitable style.

Reading through the standards, which are dry as can be, you might imagine that standardization is a polite, almost academic process, where wonks calmly debate topics like semicolon placement. This is not the case.

Tuesday, October 14th, 2014

Celebrating CSS

Cascading Style Sheets turned 20 years old this week. Happy birthtime, CeeSusS!

Bruce interviewed Håkon about the creation of CSS, and it makes for fascinating reading. If you want to dig even deeper, here’s Håkon’s 1994 thesis comparing competing approaches to style sheets.

CSS gets a tough rap. I remember talking to Douglas Crockford about CSS. I’ll paraphrase his stance as “Kill it with fire!” To be fair, he was mostly talking about the lack of a decent layout system in CSS—something that’s only really getting remedied now.

Most of the flak directed at CSS comes from smart programmers, decrying its lack of power. As a declarative language, it lacks even the most basic features of even the simplest procedural language. How are serious programmers supposed to write their serious programmes with such a primitive feature set?

But I think this mindset misses out a crucial facet of understanding CSS: it’s not about us. By us, I mean professional web developers. And when I say it’s not about us, I mean it’s not only about us.

The web is for everyone. That doesn’t just mean that it’s for everyone to use—the web is for everyone to create. That means that the core building blocks of the web need to be learnable by everyone, not just programmers.

I get nervous when I see web browsers gaining powerful features that can only be accessed via a JavaScript API. Geolocation is one example: it doesn’t have any declarative equivalent to its JavaScript implementation. Counter-examples would be video and audio: you can use the JavaScript API to get exactly the behaviour you want, if you’ve got that level of knowledge …or you can use the video and audio elements if you’re okay with letting web browsers handle the complexity of display and playback.

I think that CSS hits a nice sweet spot, balancing learnability and power. I love the fact that every bit of CSS ever written comes down to the same basic pattern:

selector {
    property: value;
}

That’s it!

How amazing is it that one simple pattern can scale to encompass a whole wide world of visual design variety?

Think about the revolution that CSS has gone through in recent years: OOCSS, SMACSS, BEM …these are fundamentally new ways of approaching front-end development, and yet none of these approaches required any changes to be made to the CSS specification. The power and flexibility was already available within its simple selector-property-value pattern.

Mind you, that modularity was compromised when we got things like named animations; a pattern that breaks out of the encapsulation model of CSS. Variables in CSS also break out of the modularity pattern.

Personally, I don’t think there’s any reason to have variables in the CSS language; it’s enough to have them in pre-processing tools. Variables add enormous value for developers, and no value at all for end users. As long as developers can use variables—and they can, with Sass and LESS—I don’t think we need to further complicate CSS.

Bert Bos wrote an exhaustive list of design principles for web standards. There’s some crossover with Tim Berners-Lee’s principles of design, with ideas such as modularity and robustness. Personally, I think that Bert and Håkon did a pretty damn good job of balancing principles like learnability, extensibility, longevity, interoperability and a host of other factors while still producing something powerful enough to scale for the whole web.

There’s one important phrase I want to highlight in the abstract of the 20 year old CSS proposal:

The proposed scheme provides a simple mapping between HTML elements and presentation hints.

Hints.

Every line of CSS you write is a suggestion. You are not dictating how the HTML should be rendered; you are suggesting how the HTML should be rendered. I find that to be a very liberating and empowering idea.

My only regret is that—twenty years on from the birth of CSS—web browsers are killing the very idea of user stylesheets. Along with “view source”, this feature really drove home the idea that professional web developers are not the only ones who have a say in what gets rendered in web browsers …and that the web truly is for everyone.

Thursday, September 11th, 2014

Web Components

The Extensible Web Summit is taking place in Berlin today because Web Components are that important. I wish I could be there, but I’ll make do with the live notes, the IRC channel, and the octothorpe tag.

I have conflicting feelings about Web Components. I am simultaneously very excited and very nervous. That’s probably a good sign.

Here’s what I wrote after the last TAG meetup in London:

This really is a radically new and different way of adding features to browsers. In theory, it shifts the balance of power much more to developers (who currently have to hack together everything using JavaScript). If it works, it will be A Good Thing and result in expanding HTML’s vocabulary with genuinely useful features. I fear there may be a rocky transition to this new way of thinking, and I worry about backwards compatibility, but I can’t help but admire the audacity of the plan.

And here’s what I wrote after the Edge conference:

If Web Components work out, and we get a kind emergent semantics of UI widgets, it’ll be a huge leap forward for the web. But if we end up with a Tower of Babel, things could get very messy indeed. We’ll probably get both at once.

To explain…

The exciting thing about Web Components is that they give developers as much power as browser makers.

The frightening thing about Web Components is that they give developers as much power as browser makers.

When browser makers—and other contributors to web standards—team up to hammer out new features in HTML, they have design principles to guide them …at least in theory. First and foremost—because this is the web, not some fly-by-night “platform”—is the issue of compatability:

Support existing content

Degrade gracefully

You can see those principles at work with newly-minted elements like canvas, audio, video where fallback content can be placed between the opening and closing tags so that older user agents aren’t left high and dry (which, in turn, encourages developers to start using these features long before they’re universally supported).

You can see those principles at work in the design of datalist.

You can see those principles at work in the design of new form features which make use of the fact that browsers treat unknown input types as type="text" (again, encouraging developers to start using the new input long before they’re supported in every browser).

When developers are creating new Web Components, they could apply that same amount of thought and care; Chris Scott has demonstrated just such a pattern. Switching to Web Components does not mean abandoning progressive enhancement. If anything they provide the opportunity to create whole new levels of experience.

Web developers could ensure that their Web Components degrade gracefully in older browsers that don’t support Web Components (and no, “just polyfill it” is not a sustainable solution) or, for that matter, situations where JavaScript—for whatever reason—is not available.

Web developers could ensure that their Web Components are accessible, using appropriate ARIA properties.

But I fear that Sturgeon’s Law is going to dominate Web Components. The comparison that’s often cited for Web Components is the creation of jQuery plug-ins. And let’s face it, 90% of jQuery plug-ins are crap.

This wouldn’t matter so much if developers were only shooting themselves in the foot, but because of the wonderful spirit of sharing on the web, we might well end up shooting others in the foot too:

  1. I make something (to solve a problem).
  2. I’m excited about it.
  3. I share it.
  4. Others copy and paste what I’ve made.

Most of the time, that’s absolutely fantastic. But if the copying and pasting happens without critical appraisal, a lot of questionable decisions can get propagated very quickly.

To give you an example…

When Apple introduced the iPhone, it provided a mechanism to specify that a web page shouldn’t be displayed in a zoomed-out view. That mechanism, which Apple pulled out of their ass without going through any kind of standardisation process, was to use the meta element with a name of “viewport”:

<meta name="viewport" value="...">

The value attribute of a meta element takes a comma-separated list of values (think of name="keywords": you provide a comma-separated list of keywords). But in an early tutorial about the viewport value, code was provided which showed values separated with semicolons (like CSS declarations). People copied and pasted that code (which actually did work in Mobile Safari) and so every browser must support that usage:

Many other mobile browsers now support this tag, although it is not part of any web standard. Apple’s documentation does a good job explaining how web developers can use this tag, but we had to do some detective work to figure out exactly how to implement it in Fennec. For example, Safari’s documentation says the content is a “comma-delimited list,” but existing browsers and web pages use any mix of commas, semicolons, and spaces as separators.

Anyway, that’s just one illustration of how code gets shared, copied and pasted. It’s especially crucial during the introduction of a new technology to try to make sure that the code getting passed around is of a high quality.

I feel kind of bad saying this because the introductory phase of any new technology should be a time to say “Hey, go crazy! Try stuff out! See what works and what doesn’t!” but because Web Components are so powerful I think that mindset could end up doing a lot of damage.

Web developers have been given powerful features in the past. Vendor prefixes in CSS were a powerful feature that allowed browsers to push the boundaries of CSS without creating a Tower of Babel of propietary properties. But because developers just copied and pasted code, browser makers are now having to support prefixes that were originally scoped to different rendering engines. That’s not the fault of the browser makers. That’s the fault of web developers.

With Web Components, we are being given a lot of rope. We can either hang ourselves with it, or we can make awesome …rope …structures …out of rope this analogy really isn’t working.

I’m not suggesting we have some kind of central authority that gets to sit in judgement on which Web Components pass muster (although Addy’s FIRST principles are a great starting point). Instead I think a web of trust will emerge.

If I see a Web Component published by somebody at Paciello Group, I can be pretty sure that it will be accessible. Likewise, if Christian publishes a Web Component, it’s a good bet that it will use progressive enhancement. And if any of the superhumans at Filament Group share a Web Component, it’s bound to be accessible, performant, and well thought-out.

Because—as is so often the case on the web—it’s not really about technologies at all. It’s about people.

And it’s precisely because it’s about people that I’m so excited about Web Components …and simultaneously so nervous about Web Components.

Thursday, June 13th, 2013

Jeremy Keith - What We Talk About When We Talk About The Web on Vimeo

My presentation from the Industry conference in Newcastle a little while back, when I stepped in for John Allsopp to deliver the closing talk.

Monday, June 10th, 2013

The Extensible Web Manifesto

An intriguing initiative to tighten up the loop between standards development and implementation.

Friday, June 7th, 2013

The thing and the whole of the thing: on DRM in HTML

A great post by Stuart on the prospect of DRM-by-any-other-name in HTML.

The argument has been made that if the web doesn’t embrace this stuff, people won’t stop watching videos: they’ll just go somewhere other than the web to get them, and that is a correct argument. But what is the point in bringing people to the web to watch their videos, if in order to do so the web becomes platform-specific and unopen and balkanised?

Friday, March 15th, 2013

inessential.com: Why I love RSS and You Do Too

Brent Simmons pens a love-letter to RSS, a technology that you use every day, whether you realise it or not.

On Silos vs an Open Social Web by Tantek

Tantek steps back and offers some practical approaches to reclaiming a more open web from the increasingly tight clutches of the big dominant roach motels.

Notice that he wrote this on his own domain, not on Branch, Medium, Google+, Facebook, or any other black hole.

Tuesday, March 12th, 2013

We’re not ‘appy. Not ‘appy at all.

An excellent explanation from Tom Loosemore on why the Government Digital Service is putting its energy into open standards and the web, rather than proprietary native apps.

Thursday, July 12th, 2012

A List Apart: Articles: ALA Summer Reading Issue

How about this for a trip down memory lane—a compendium of articles from over a decade of A List Apart, also available as a Readlist epub. It’s quite amazing just how good this free resource is.

The only thing to fault is that, due to some kind of clerical error, one of my articles has somehow found its way onto this list.

If this were Twitter, you’d be at-replying me with the hashtag “humblebrag”, wouldn’t you?

Monday, October 18th, 2010

Position Paper for the W3C Workshop on Web Applications and Compound Documents

Here's a little piece of web history: the proposal that was presented and rejected at the 2004 W3C workshop that led to the formation of the WHATWG.

Tuesday, July 8th, 2008

Opera Web Standards Curriculum

Opera have unveiled the Web Standards Curriculum. It's released under a CC attribution non-commercial share-alike license and it looks like a very valuable resource.

Saturday, April 5th, 2008

Morethanseven » Why the webstandards world appears to be choosing Django

Gareth tries to figure out why Django seems to strike a chord with standardistas. It may that the separation of concerns resonates with the methodology of progressive enhancement. Some good comments follow

Monday, December 4th, 2006

SimpleBits

Dan has redesigned his site and it looks gorgeous.

Friday, October 27th, 2006

Web Directions North » Blog Archive » Web Directions North open for business

Registration is now open for Web Directions North in Vancouver in February. Come for the geeky presentations, stay for the skiing.

Thursday, April 27th, 2006

Pub Standards

Where the worlds of web and booze collide, slap-bang in the middle of London. Arranging meet-ups, every now and then, where likeminded web peeps with sore livers can share these very special interests.